Save. Spend. Splurge.

You don’t desire what you have never had

My mom said this to me the other day when I was asking her about what it was like to grow up in poverty.

I kept saying:

I can’t imagine living like that, sleeping on a fruit box, with rats biting you at night, with an empty, growling stomach to boot.

She looked at me.. shrugged and said:

Well… You don’t desire what you’ve never had right?

That simple statement, so matter-of-fact, really stuck with me.

Update in response to Maz’s comment below, disagreeing with this:

To clarify, my mother didn’t even know a real bed existed. Her whole world was walking to school, coming back home to lie on the crate, studying, and doing it all over again.

She didn’t know people had real furniture in housesย and it wasn’t until she slept in a real bed at the age of 19 that she realized that what she had was inadequate.

She had no friends because she was so poor, but she had her sisters and brothers.

You on the other hand, were obviously exposed to a lot of luxuries and therefore you desired them because you saw them and saw people using them.

My mom never even saw any of these luxuries, it wasn’t even something that existed in her world. Even reading about beds in storybooks, she didn’t understand that their “beds” were not her crate, she assumed it kind of the same thing, because she called her crate a “bed”.

As a child, she had never desired a life that she had never experienced filled with toys, books, games, TV, lazing around and so on.

All she wanted was food, and perhaps the rats to not bite her so much at night, and a more comfortable fruit box.

(She pointed out the size to me, and if you can imagine a CRATE, that’s basically the tiny size of her bed from a kid until the age of 19.)

I’m sure she would have liked her bed to be bigger, but she was just happy she had a “bed” off the floor where the rats would really have had a feast.

She knew she was hungry, she needed more to eat, and that was all that was on her mind; that, and getting out of the situation she was in.



How many of us can really say that we have ever really wanted for anything necessary?

I can’t. I sure as heck can’t say that I have ever experienced the following:

  • gone hungry involuntarily — I’ve tried fasting, and I’ve tried that fruit diet and both lasted a day
  • gone without shoes
  • only had one pair of socks to last me an entire year
  • only had 2 outfits — school uniform and a simple dress for the entire year
  • had rats or any kind of animal (not insects) bite me at night while I slept

I’ve started typing down her experiences and memories as told by her, because I think it’s important that my future kids have the chance when they’re older, to read what it was like for their grandmother who grew up in poverty.

They will grow up the same way I did — with lots of food, shelter, clothing, entertainment, schooling and so on, and I don’t want them to think that it is just the way it is.

I want them to understand there are different realities in life and especially globally, and not all of them are caused by being lazy or stupid as society might want us to feel.

That said, I will not excuse them from anything if they end up being lazy bums (here’s hoping).

I will definitely say that I consider a lot of people in a First World country to be lazy when they bitch and moan about how they can’t get ahead or have no opportunities.

I have the collective experiences of my mother and her family (and others, like friends’ parents) to tell me what it was like for them before “life became good”, which meant just having food, clean water, and more than 2 pairs of socks a year.

If you live in a First World country as a legal citizen, 99% of all of you have the opportunities available to you and it mostly boils down to determination, ambition, motivation and hard work; not necessarily smarts, education, or connections.


Then there’s lifestyle inflation which I am totally guilty of. I will definitely admit that my lifestyle has grown complacent and I am well aware of it.

Try as I might to fight against lifestyle inflation (of which I am including the sheerย luxury to not have to work all the time), I know my comforts have gone up dramatically in recent years.

I eat and afford better food, I don’t have to really worry about money (not until I don’t find work for the next 2 years!!), I don’t have to worry about finding a job (I can always get one), and I don’t have any debts to pay like a mortgage, or a car loan.

As a result, I am growing lax (although not TOO lax, as I am a PF blogger at heart), but will be working to combat that over time in little ways, such as stopping my purchases of ebooks now that my Swagbucks rewards have finally run out.

I will be going to the library a LOT more often (just renewed my card).

As it stands, I desire everything I have in my life, and if it were taken away (as in, I’d be forced to eat canned food), I’d be unhappy.

That’s the truth of it.



  • Lila

    My mom grew up poor in Russia and our family eventually left and we made it to the U.S. and after working for about five years for someone else, she started up her small business. She honestly doesn’t feel sorry for lazy people, whether they’re American or Russian.

    She taught me that as long as we have our freedom, health, family and friends we are wealthy.

    • save. spend. splurge.

      Freedom is something we really take for granted. I watch a lot of videos and read books about how people are oppressed and forced into caste slavery around the world (or slavery in general), and it makes you realize that the rest of the world doesn’t operate on the same basic fundamentals as your country does.

  • Tania

    I’d agree but also would need to include things you have never had and have never seen. But that doesn’t have the same ring, right?

    My parents both grew up on the poorer side of the spectrum. My dad lived on a sugar plantation in one room with his parents, one grandparent and 5 siblings (how they could have so much kids with no privacy I don’t really understand!). There was no fridge, food was stored in a wooden barrel like thing with a top, you put your rice in the same barrel. They grew their own veggies and canned meat from the plantation grocery was a luxury. They took a bath in a cedar furo heated by hot rocks. My auntie said she was the last one to take a bath and it was always cold. They had to walk to an outhouse.

    Here’s the thing, don’t ever say they were poor to my dad. He’ll be offended and will respond, “we weren’t poor, we had everything we needed”.

    I do notice they don’t get my love of vintage clothing and bags as my mom said they can’t imagine buying used when they can now buy new. (They do buy used household items though from time to time.) I also got my tendency to go for quality items from dad because my grandma taught them it was better to buy (or make) things that would last when money was short. I’m also way quicker to purge items for the sake of empty space and keeping housekeeping to a minimum whereas they’ll hold onto things forever (my mom still had vacuum bags for a model of vacuum she no longer owned). I sometimes have to remind them that if they are 100% sure they will not have a need that item that there may be someone out there who is in financial need who would be so happy to have it and would use it.

    • saverspender @ save. spend. splurge.

      @Tania: In India, many families live in one room just as you mentioned. About the size of 200 square feet, a family of 6 can live. They all sleep in the same room, no privacy, bathroom with just a half wall to “separate” the room, and the “kitchen” beside it.

      I love that your father never considered themselves poor. THAT is the attitude I’d love to cultivate for myself now, and for my future children (not that I think I’m poor, but you get what I mean).

      At least they had food. My mom’s biggest regret was no food. That to me, is the biggest sign of poverty.

  • Maz

    Your mother’s comment stuck with me too but mostly because I disagree with her : I actually believe that most people desire what they’ve never had. I certainly did when I had my first job. I bought all the things I desired, almost regardless of the price tags. I was single, I did not care. I bought everything I wanted, everything my parents had never been able to buy ( I come from a typical working class family, the “poor” but WORKING class – that is not on benefits – well, poor by western standard obviously ).
    Now it’s a different story. I sold or gave away most of my stuff a long time ago and I’m not into material things at all anymore. All I desire these days is …. SILENCE. Honestly, I’ve got 3 kids and they never stop talking / making noise / screaming / crying / whingeing etc. Well, kids being kids really. Not that I’m complaining but I really wish for silence now and again. And no amount of money can give me that lol.
    On a different note, my husband’s from Africa and he’s forever reminding the kids that there’s more to life than the western way of live. He tells them story about his childhood, his school days / family etc and they’re fascinated by how different life is outside Europe ( we live in the UK ).

    • saverspender @ save. spend. splurge.


      To clarify, my mother didn’t even know a real bed existed. Her whole world was walking to school, coming back home to lie on the crate, studying, and doing it all over again.

      She didn’t know people had real furniture and it wasn’t until she slept in a real bed at the age of 19 that she realized that what she had was inadequate.

      You on the other hand, were obviously exposed to a lot of luxuries and therefore you desired them because you saw them and saw people using them.

      Perhaps your kids need to travel ๐Ÿ™‚

      I found that travel really opened my eyes.

  • Pauline

    I have lived lean in college, on about $400 with $150 of rent, but there was always money for food and even a little for fun. With every step of lifestyle inflation, I have grown to like the comfort but wouldn’t mind too much going back to broke student because my life is not extravagant today either. I imagine your mom still saw well fed people in the streets, people who had clean clothes and looked healthy, sturdy houses and shops full of food. Not imagining that you can one day have that, that you don’t deserve it is hard because it doesn’t make you try to move towards a better future.

    • saverspender @ save. spend. splurge.

      @Pauline: My mom actually didn’t connect the two together that people had all that stuff and she could desire it too.

      She just knew that she had no food to eat. It was the #1 concern not her bed, not clean clothes.. just that she was always hungry.

  • Michelle's Finance Journal

    I forget that most of the things I complain about aren’t, in the big scheme of things, that big of a deal. My mom went through a civil war when she was a kid and throughout her life, she struggled. I know this and heard this a lot, but I still forget. The more I see, the more I want. I need to check myself and remind myself what’s really important and what will make me truly happy. Great post~

  • MelD

    Although my family never had to suffer quite that degree of poverty, even during/after WW2, I appreciate having grown up hearing about my granny’s simple childhood in a small 2 up/2 down/loo in the yard as the eldest girl in a family of 10 kds. They were all very happy. Also it did me good to hear about the war years and rationing in Britain and to see that my grandparents continued to live frugally (still!). I know how little my parents had in the early 60s when I was born and the hardships – despite my mom’s university education. She couldn’t afford a haircut or a magazine or clothes for me (a kind friend gave her some used ones) and had to leave me while she worked a few hours teaching to have any income at all, hoping I would sleep…
    So I had to bite my tongue last week when my MIL celebrated her wedding anniversary by showing us her album. Though she considers herself a refugee from after WW2, her parents always had work, she never wanted for anything and her parents spoilt her, sent her to a private school (where she promptly felt poor!) and made sure she had beautiful clothes. She soon met her future husband, who it is true hadnothing at that point but inherited later on – she was showing us her posh civil and white weddings, wedding list, reception, apartment etc. and colour photos of my husband as a baby …. and saying “oh, we didn’t have a bean'”!! (There are 12 photos of me in my first year, b/w, because the camera was borrowed and no money for film or developping!) She still thinks she’s not very well off, sitting in an enormous villa estate filled with family antiques of some value, surrounded by silver cutlery, exquisite china and glassware, paintings etc.??!! Oh, and she hasn’t ever worked outside the home…
    She lives in a nostalgic cloud of envy for a lifestyle that is never going to be good enough – maybe you have to have been third world poor to really not desire what you never had!!
    We are proud of everything we have achieved – all without any help from relatives, rich or poor, and using our common sense. That’s goood ๐Ÿ˜‰

    • saverspender @ save. spend. splurge.

      @MelD: Oh goodness.

      My mom has a similar story to your photographs. She only has 2 pictures. One when she was 8, and the second one when she was 19.

      It’s why we have so many photos as babies and kids, because she just had no money for that sort of thing (was a gift I think).

  • SarahN @ Livetolist

    Wow what a life your mother had! I assume she didn’t grow up in Canada? And does she want you to get a mortgage ๐Ÿ˜‰

    On google chrome, I can’t see the W’s in your titles?!

    • saverspender @ save. spend. splurge.

      @SarahN @ Livetolist: My mom does not want me to get a mortgage ๐Ÿ˜‰ She couldn’t care less actually. I told her the real return on a house is 0% but she doesn’t understand those financial things.

      What is up with the Ws!? I see them fine in Google Chrome (I use it for the Mac). Let me see if I can fix that somehow?

  • Tammy R

    Wow, Mochimac. I really loved how you told the story of your mother. I’m so glad you’ve thought to write it and relay the story to your future children.

    I want for less and less each year. I’m living with half the clothing I used to. We’re TV-less. I spend my money on coffee, iced teas, and meals out.

    I desire more travel but love having a home to come back to. It doesn’t have to be this home, and it probably won’t be when it’s paid off.

    I desire more time to write.

    • saverspender @ save. spend. splurge.

      @Tammy R: I definitely splurge on food. It’s the one area I do not want to be cheap on. Eating out is less of a big deal to me, because I’m turning it back into a luxury rather than a common occurrence.

      Time is where I really feel rich. I have plenty of time and it’s a luxury as well.

  • cj

    Glad to see that you did not shy away from the word “lazy”. Some bloggers seem unwilling to use it, but it’s simple and often times goes right to the heart of the matter. I could not agree more. No shame in a little hustle and it makes life far more interesting anyhow. Glad you are writing down some of your grandmother’s story. It is worth being told and heard. Thanks for a great post!!!

    • saverspender @ save. spend. splurge.

      @cj: My mother’s story ๐Ÿ™‚ Not my grandmother’s. She has long since been gone.

      People ARE lazy. We should just admit it and realize that sometimes we say “No” to things because we’re lazy.

      I am too at times, and I know it but I accept that I don’t make more money because I don’t overwork myself and take jobs I don’t like. If I HAD TO, I would. But I certainly don’t bitch about not having more money as a result.

  • Mum

    I just wish I had the chance to have a mortgage … Be happy!!!

  • Leslie Beslie

    This was why going to college was such a culture-shock for me. I had seen privileged families on TV (celebrity and otherwise) but they weren’t “real people” to me. When I spent my first year of college at a private school (yay grants) and met kids whose parents bought them a car, laptop, everything – it really opened my eyes. I had never thought about any of that growing up because I didn’t know it really existed! Learning about it made me aware of just how different my life was compared to some others. I would never call my childhood bad (in the context of not having material possessions) though.

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